When morning came, Hope found that the frog had transformed a little more – he was quite as tall as a man, and nearly as pale. His toes weren’t so webbed and his nose was coming to a point. But he didn’t give her a look of fun, mischief or fond admiration… he looked a little annoyed.
“Say, what’s a fella gotta do around here to get some bugs?”
“Don’t you… catch them? You know, with your…” Hope cringed and pointed to his mouth.
“What, and ruin my breath for our next big kiss? You really want that? C’mon, Princess Hop, I have a feeling about true love’s kiss today… so let’s make it special, shall we?” he winked and said it in that tone that made her wonder what romantic plan he had to “make it special.”
“Come on, I’ll teach you how you can catch flies and make a fried fly pie to die for! And then, after a romantic dinner, that kiss – take #3!”
Hope was brave and strong through the catching, mashing, and frying of the flies. The frog even showed her plants in the swamp that complimented the dish like herbs and spices. But her courage wavered a bit when it came time to eat. Then she realized that the frog was looking less warty and his flat head was rounding out. Maybe this is working! she thought, and swallowed a mouthful of the pie without even tasting it. It was easier to kiss the frog this time because he didn’t seem so frog-like and there did seem to be an enchantment working on him, even if it was slower than she expected. So she chose to hope in him.
The frog smacked his lips loudly and thoughtfully, and wrinkled his newly evolved nose. “Too much fungus in the pie… and not enough desire in the kiss. Sorry Princess Hop, better luck tomorrow.” Then he left her alone with the mess from dinner and the growing feeling of frustration and doubt in her heart.
Days continued to pass in this way – Hope learned more about the frog’s way of living and so became more comfortable with life in the swamp. Every evening they would try true love’s kiss again, and it would conclude with some criticism from the frog. He would leave her in disgust, and she would feel more ashamed and more alone than ever before. She thought often of her father’s garden on those dark and muddy nights, and wondered if she would ever see tulips, daffodils, violets, or roses again.
One night after the frog had gone away, Hope sat on the muddy bank and cried. “Princess, why are you crying?” the voice was gentle and kind, and Hope was surprised when she looked up and saw an old man with a bald head and a long beard. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “My name is Judson, and I am a friend of the Great King. And I believe you are Hope, yes? Although, judging by your tears, you do not feel very hopeful. Will you tell me why?”
Hope sniffed and wiped her eyes. “I’m very tired,” she said. “Tired of not being good enough, of being away from my family, of not seeing gardens of familiar flowers, and of living like… a frog.”
“I see,” Judson said patiently, though he wasn’t sure he did. “So then, why are you still here? Why don’t you leave?”
Hope laughed a little weak, bitter laugh, shook her head and burst into tears again. “I ask myself that every night! But it is the strangest thing… every day the frog looks more like a prince – his skin, face, legs, hands – today I even noticed hair on the top of his head! But he doesn’t act like a prince – in fact, he seems to be meaner and more critical and more demanding every day. But when I look at him, I think the enchantment must be working, so I need to be patient and try harder.”
“Oh, the enchantment is working, alright, but not on him - on you!” Judson whisked a small bloom off a lily pad. “I always find that a nice cup of tea helps me to calm down and think more clearly. Would you care to join me?”
“Tea! But there is no tea in this Swamp!”
“But of course there is! It’s just that frogs prefer to splash in it rather than sip it properly.” And with that he scooped some of the brown-green water into the lily cup and held it out to Hope. “Don’t worry,” he said in response to her skeptical look. “It is enchanted to be perfectly healthy to drink. I know… I made it so.”
With a tentative sip, Hope smiled. It was delicious and comforting, and did help her to calm down. She took another sip and sighed.